The announcement that this week’s Super Bowl will be the first in 53 years to include nationwide political advertisements–Trump and Bloomberg have reportedly each spent some $10 million for 60 seconds of airtime–marks a significant shift in the battlelines of our current cultural civil war. Like it or not, businesses that have purchased airtime during the Super Bowl may well find themselves drawn into the political melee, even if only tangentially–and some are likely to be caught in the crossfire.
If we’ve learned anything from a decade of the Facebookization of everything, it’s that no one escapes contact with today’s politics unscathed. Look no further than the traditional news media. It seems no matter what news organizations do today, they’re prone to a barrage of outraged, novel critiques born in the age of social media. The rules have changed so much that some of the criticism currently lighting up the Twittersphere requires entirely new vocabulary:
Bothsideism – The attempt to portray non-partiality for political happenings when facts overwhelmingly indicate one side is lying.
Megaphoning – The practice of repeating a politician’s claim, whether true or false, as a headline, thereby spreading it to a much larger audience (particularly an issue on social platforms, where more people scan headlines than read articles).
Euphemisming – When media outlets bend themselves into pretzels to avoid using any form of the verb “to lie”–such as “claims,” “falsely claims,” “states without evidence,” “accuses,” etc.
With politics now front and center at the great hearth of American programming (the Super Bowl draws 100 million US viewers, more than any other broadcast of any kind) brands sharing the same airspace should brace themselves for similarly unanticipated landmines, including shifting standards, awkward lines of questioning, and highly charged issues.
We’re way past players kneeling during the national anthem. Brands should be prepared to respond to a host of uncomfortable topics–particularly considering that one of the candidates has been documented lying over 16,000 times, called some countries “shitholes,” has been impeached, and has a penchant for tweeting any inane thing that crosses his mind.
In the last case, for example, it’s easy to imagine Trump tweeting ire or praise for his fellow Super Bowl advertisers during the game. Trump so often wades into whatever is occupying the nation’s attention that if an ad is particularly attention-getting and happens to go viral (as they’re all designed to do!), he may jump into the fray and make a comment, generating all sorts of unanticipated collateral damage. Forced into the global spotlight, bothsidesism and euphemisming will only land you on the wrong side of a viral hashtag, megaphoned across the web.
Even if Trump doesn’t comment on brands, brands may be asked to comment on his comments. Consider, for example, the divisive issue of the Kansas City Chiefs’ fans performing the “tomahawk chop”–a rallying cry many find insulting to Native Americans. If Trump opines on the topic, are his fellow advertisers benefitting from the airtime going to get away with a simple “no comment”?
To best brace themselves for the unexpected, brands advertising during this weekend’s game should take a page from the battlefields of modern media:
Speak Up – Hunkering down and hoping the tweetstorm will blow over will only allow others to control your narrative. Take a deep breath, assess the situation with a clear eye, and issue a public response in a timely manner.
Stand Your Ground – In a nation of polarized politics, attempting to please everyone will just end up disappointing everyone. Stand up for your brand and be prepared to take some heat from the naysayers. Your advocates–existing and newly earned–won’t leave you hanging.
Stay Positive – The reality is that most viewers are just tuning in for a fun afternoon, so cultivate more lovers than haters by taking the high road and avoiding negativity. In the words of senator and former candidate Cory Booker, “Never wrestle with a pig. The pig likes it and you get dirty.”
Brands appearing “in the big game” should be aware that, this year, the rules have changed. This weekend’s broadcast may well reveal who’s tough enough to play ball and who should have taken their brands and gone home.
Lucas Conley is the Director of Intellectual Property at The Many, one of the nation’s leading independent advertising agencies.